Fast and Loose, 1939. 9/10

Murder mystery comedy with a husband and wife quasi-detective team. Known to be thinner than The Thin Man series, this one stars Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell as Joel and Garda Sloane. The theft of some perhaps bogus Shakespeare manuscripts from the Torrent household motivates the plot. The Torrents are represented by Ralph Morgan as patriarch Nicholas, Mary Forbes as his wife, Tom Collins is the son Gerald, and Jo Ann Sayers is their daughter, Christina. John Hubbard is Nick’s Secretary, Phil Sergeant.

Also here are Reginald Owen as broker Vincent Charlton, Etienne Giradot as elderly client Christopher Oates, and Alan Dinehart as insurance investigator Dave Hilliard. Also, Ian Wolfe as Wilkes, the librarian; Forbes is played by Donald Douglas, Bobbie Neville by Joan Marsh, and casino operator Lucky Nolan by Sidney Blackmer.

“What did we have to eat last night? Fried carcass?” Joel’s reaction on a rude awakening, following what presumably was a dose of partying. Oates shows up in the Sloane’s office; he has the dope that Nicholas Torrent is in dire straights needs to sell his Shakespeare manuscripts. Joel calls Phil regarding Torrent–but Phil completely contradicts Oates.

Joel goes to see Dave about Torrent’s Shakespeare stash. Strangely, Hilliard has one of Torrent’s lost treasures…there’s a gigantic insurance policy on Torrent’s library. Anyway, the Sloanes and Oates get an intro to the Torrent’s. In the library, they discuss the missing Shakespeare; Wilkes is openly hostile, accusing them of theft. But just then, Dave returns the Shakespeare.

Dave and Joel discuss the Paradise Lost volume and Gerald’s loose-cannon status. But the kid is hovering nearby. Vincent, Gerald, and Christina introduce themselves. Vincent doesn’t want Sloane to sell the Shakespeare. Joel talks about how he’s been a back-door detective for rare book thefts; Phil and Gerald seem a touch unnerved by this info. Conversely, Joel is suspicious of Gerald.

Phil and Christina, a hot couple, are deep in conversation, watched by Joel. There’s a scuffle somewhere in the house–in the library of course. Vincent is there, stuff is disheveled, but nothing is apparently missing. But he says someone was into the safe. Joel has dirt on Wilkes. Sloane goes to quiz Gerald, who left a clue that he’d been in the library. Sloane was going for his gun, but Joel kind of judo chops him.

Coming to, Joel intimates that he’s going to the police. Nick tells off his son for trying to heist the manuscript from Vincent. He basically disowns him on the spot; Christina tries to intervene in her brother’s favor, but her dad tells her off too. The plot thickens as soon enough Gerald’s on the phone to Bobby and Lucky, obviously fences for the Shakespeare.

Joel, pretending to be Gerald, sneaks up to see Bobby; saying that Gerald sent him. He quizzes her about the manuscript, but, shazam! the cops show up. Nick has been murdered and the manuscript is stolen. The Inspector gathers the household and guests together; first, though, he talks to Christina. Confronted by Phil, Gerald says he’s already sold the stolen books.

Gerald wants to finger Wilkes, but Phil won’t go for it. A funny scene occurs when the police bring Joel back to the house with Bobby: Garda wasn’t ready for the woman to appear with her husband. She: “You, you..!” He: “Worm?” She: “Don’t flatter yourself!” Anyway, Christina shows up to tell her about the goings-on with her brother and dad the night before. He tells the cops that the manuscripts are forgeries; and, that Wilkes did time for forgery. Also, that he’s gone missing.

The Inspector seems to suspect Gerald and Christina. It vets very confusing, though, as to who knew the manuscript was a forgery, and who had to gain based on that knowledge. If the buyer thinks he bought a fake “he’ll squawk.” Anyway, Phil’s in the hot seat. “Don’t be an heroic idiot” Joel tells him. Now Phil’s arrested, but Joel’s cleared; The Sloane’s suspect Gerald. Vincent comes to talk to Joel. He wants Joel to represent the Torrents, but he says he’s working for Phil.

So the Sloanes go to Lucky’s club/casino, they’re not exactly welcome. Ushered into Lucky’s office, Lucky basically wants to bribe him off the Torrent case. Joel turns the tables, holds a gun on Lucky so that they can’t hold Garda. So the couple gets away, with Nolan’s minions give chase. Joel and Garda are forced off the road and wreck. A bit too lucky to be barely hurt after being thrown from an open car.

Oates shows up at their door; down at the staircase, though, there’s a disturbance. Garda discovers that Wilke’s body is stuffed into a suit of armor. The Inspector confers with Joel. He thinks Joel’s hiding something. Next thing, Joel talks to Bobby about the night the library safe was opened. She’s plenty flirty with him; Lucky put her up to it. Another funny scene with Garda, as he awkwardly tries to avoid her, having Bobby’s perfume all over him. “I had to put perfume on. I was crossing a field and stepped on a skunk” Hey, that works.

Talking to the police, he discovers from Stockton (Pierre Watkins) the manuscript is genuine–whoever sold him the real deal was the murderer. Christina has secreted a letter of her dad’s that says Gerald was written out of his will. But the police have it–which bolsters their case against Gerald. Stockton arrives, and is shown into the library, but is found dead there. He had the genuine Shakespeare, which, naturally, has gone missing.

Another group interrogation–everyone but the just-arrived Nolan has an alibi. So Nolan goes on to relate that Gerald wanted to barter the manuscript for his gambling debts. Gerald denies that. The manuscript is found in Gerald’s room. Sounds bad for him–but Joel convinces them that, no, that’s the forgery. The Inspector agrees to give Joel 24 hrs. to solve the crimes.

Garda and Oates wait for Joel, who soon arrives; but one of Nolan’s goons comes too. Joel dispatches him. Lucky’s paying off Bobby, Joel comes calling. Sort of as back-up, Garda and Oates show up; and just in time. Thanks to an assist from Bobby, Joel’s able to escape (he’s getting close to nine lives by now). Bobby comes to the Sloane’s, seeking help. Was Vincent involved in the manuscript scheme? But maybe not. In any case, Gerald’s gambling debt was a red herring, as the Torrents had paid it off.

Next day, Dave’s at Sloan’s office when Vincent shows up, expecting to complete the manuscript sale to Oates. Joel tells him that the deal’s off because they’re actually talking about the forgery. They tell him that the family’s insurance will compensate them and so on. But Vincent gets antsy. Apparently, he had sold the genuine to Stockton (Pierre Watkin) a year previously, and, I guess, hoped to duplicate his money by selling the forgery to Oates. He had to kill Stockton, who knew that the second manuscript was a fake, and Wilkes too, as he’d made the forgery.

So Vincent had killed all three; Nick was killed because he learned about the fake manuscript. In fact, Joel knows that Vincent’s manuscript is the original, which is why he didn’t want Joel to examine it. Anyway, the denouement has Garda inadvertently shoot Joel as Vincent wrestled with Joel and Dave. Recuperating, Joel asks her “Why did you have to pick on me? Why don’t you close your eyes when you shoot?”

Fast and Loose is incredibly entertaining. The subplots are so carefully woven in to the forgery/murder plot that everything flows nicely. Despite its relatively long run time, it doesn’t lag. Setting most of the scenes in the Torrent mansion is a good idea; this tends to keep us focused on the main plot. Also, given that there’s quite a few characters, they don’t need to show up unexpectedly, as they’re on hand.

The best aspect of Fast and Loose though is the Young/Russell relationship. They’re great as a married couple–their quips are jumping all over the place. That’s fitting. The supporting cast works well too; even with all these guys crammed into the plot they each have something of a personality, especially Giradot as Oates.

The plot does get a bit tough to follow; I had to re-watch some scenes before I figured out what was supposed to be going on. Even now I’m not exactly sure. But, that’s part of the mission of the mystery genre: to make just plausible what is seemingly incomprehensible. My only gripe has to do with the over-cleverness, if not invincibility, of Joel. Not much put out by a nasty car wreck (neither is Garda), able to overwhelm Nolan so easily, not really getting roughed up by Nolan’s goons, and, to cap it all off, cherrily recovering from being shot. That dissolves the generously- layered suspension of disbelief just a tad.

But a great movie. Farmermouse liked the car chase, so he gives this nine Shakespeare superhero comic books. 9/10.

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